The 90s were a time of much change in South Africa. At the start of the decade, former president Nelson Mandela was released from prison and ushered in a new era where apartheid ended and democracy began. As a result of these and many other changes, musical genres such as kwaito and techno began to move into the mainstream. In 1994, the same year South Africa cast its first democratic vote, a small crowd headed to Limpopo to hear 27 local acts play at the first-ever Oppikoppi. The 90s were a time when the SABC was still reputable, people listened to disc-mans and Rascals had their own TV commercial.
Musically, it was the decade Springbok Nude Girls were formed and Lucky Dube continued to be one of the best selling artists. The late Mandoza also made his mark on the kwaito scene and Just Jinjer became a household name. Here’s our list of local 90s gems to add your playlist.
Prophets of Da City
Before kwaito blew up, there was hip hop and Prophets of Da City. Their song, Boomstyle, combined US hip hop with mbaqanga style guitar riffs and spoke about the realities within the industry as well as challenges faced by people of colour. Since founding in 1988 they’ve played at Nelson Mandela’s inaugaration and alongside The Fugees, Quincy Jones and James Brown.
Springbok Nude Girls
The Springbok Nude Girls made Arno Carstens famous. They were also one of the first bands to elevate South African Rock music and introduced elements of ska, punk, acid jazz and heavy metal into their sound. In 1996 Pretoria News dubbed them “…the most wanted band in the country”.
Lucky Dube’s 1996 album, Serious Reggae Business, made him the Best Selling African Artist at the World Music Awards. He’s been called SA’s reggae king and to date, he’s produced 22 albums in Zulu, Afrikaans and English. Much of his career was spent touring internationally where he performed with musicians such as Peter Gabriel, Sting and Sinéad O’Connor.
Boom Shaka was formed intentionally to appeal to the youth. They’re the group responsible for the kwaito dance move, “Chop di Grass”. Although they’ve reportedly caused controversy over their style of dress and dancing, they’re still viewed as pioneers for having brought women to the forefront of the kwaito scene.
Arthur Mafokate is the King of kwaito and is credited with one of the first kwaito hits back in 1995. While kwaito focuses largely on the instrumental, Mafokate used the genre to speak about the lived experiences of black South Africans. As the founder of 999 Records, he also helped many artists access wider audiences by exposing their music to overseas markets and broadening its international appeal.
Mandoza was as multi-platinum selling artist and was discovered by Arthur Mafokate. While he was a prolific artist, his hit single Nkalakatha became a kwaito anthem and his most well-known song. Throughout his career, Mandoza imbued his music with strong messages commenting on the social challenges faced by South Africans in a new democracy, rather than focusing solely on the commercial side of the music making business.
Just Jinjer came onto the scene in 1996 and since then have had eight number-one hits on national airwaves. In 1997, their debut album, All Comes Around, had four Top 40 hits on 5fm and they appeared on the front of American music magazine, Billboard. They’re currently living and making music in LA.
Battery 9 is an industrial music project hailing from Jozi. Paul Riekert started it in 1994 after feeling stifled by the constraints of a standard rock band. Paul notes that at the time, people thought it incredulous to be making industrial music in South Africa. “Looking back, I don’t blame them. It was very noisy. A backbone of sampled machines and scrap metal percussion, layers of electronica, screwed-up beats, with metal-inspired guitars and angry, distorted vocals – most of it in the politically incorrect, vilified ‘language of the oppressor’, Afrikaans. With a cynical sense of humour. And no hope for a hit or even radio play”, he says.
Trompies aren’t just a successful kwaito group, they’re also the owners of the independent record label Kalawa Jazmee. In their style of music, language plays a critical role and is used to celebrate and draw attention to previously marginalised communities.
Before they found their current name, Wonderboom were called The Eight Legged Grove Machine. The four-piece rock band formed in 1996, have released eight albums and been nominated for five South African Music Awards. They’re still going strong 20 years later and play regularly at festivals like Oppikoppi and venues such as House of Machines in Cape Town and Jozi’s The Good Luck Bar.
Cover image from The Mail and Guardian, originally sourced from Media24.